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U.S. Google antitrust case set to expand with GOP states joining (bloomberg.com)
95 points by aspenmayer 15 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 111 comments



I don't get why people are so comfortable with the idea of politicians wearing their dislike of certain corporations on their sleeve, such as Senator Warren seems to do for Google.

Anti-trust regulations are not supposed to be used as generic legal cudgels against corporations you don't like. They are supposed to be, you know, for making sure that the market remains sane.

Right now, it almost feels like "We don't like Google, and we gotta throw the book at them so that at least some page sticks". This attitude is akin to selectively weaponizing the law. Kinda like the landlord finding a reason to evict you so he combs through the lease agreement and finds a clause that your curtains need to be white but you actually have pale yellow ones. Sure, you are technically in violation of the lease, but it's very clear why this is being done, and the curtains have little to do with it.

And it explains why, for example, no one cares about Comcast or the fact that a handful of payment processors basically run their personal fiefdoms about who or what they will allow on their platform, while we are asked to be over-worried by vague claims of 'Russian tampering'.

Application of these regulations should again focus on the actual harms rather than getting some kind of cruel pleasure 'destroying' companies. The government has a lot of power, and often for good reason, but that power can only be respected when it is wielded dispassionately, not to settle personal scores.


> I don't get why people are so comfortable with the idea of politicians wearing their dislike of certain corporations on their sleeve, such as Senator Warren seems to do for Google.

You're talking about elected officials. Transparency of beliefs is exactly what you should want. That's the entire point.

> Right now, it almost feels like "We don't like Google, and we gotta throw the book at them so that at least some page sticks". This attitude is akin to selectively weaponizing the law.

Senator Warren is a lawmaker. She makes the laws. Throwing the book is the job of the executive or judicial branch. Hopefully Senator Warren has a good reason to justify her beliefs that the people agree with, but if she believes Google is bad for society in specific ways, it is literally her job to create laws that make it more difficult from them to do that. This article is about the justice department doing things and Senator Warren is mentioned as encouraging them to move faster as an aside.

> it explains why, for example, no one cares about Comcast

Senator Warren does. https://thegrio.com/2019/12/20/elizabeth-warren-blasts-comca...

I don't have any particular thoughts on Warren. But I do think large tech companies wield too much power and should be broken up to reduce this power. I would vote for lawmakers who felt similarly. That's about it. I'd be down for a political platform that is exclusively just wanting to reduce the influence of a handful of specific companies.


But she's not making new laws here. She's declaring that they're breaking old laws that already exist - and a huge portion of the public case she's presenting is "well, I don't like how they're using their power". It's like seeing a DA indict a guy for murder, and then deliver a bunch of press conferences about how he's a greedy businessman who'll no longer be able to get away with overcharging the public for poor quality services.


The example you gave is disingenuous. The reasons to not like Google go hand in hand with their position as a monopoly or member of an oligopoly.


Whatever your opinion is on which way the issue should go, I think we'd be far better off if every single senator had an explicit stance on the issue.

Another way to look at it is: which big companies are politically popular to go after?

A big reason companies like Comcast largely stay under the radar is that they donate to many legislators in both parties in Congress, and they have money to mount challenges to legislators that don’t toe the line. Comcast maintains stability of their influence. Going after Comcast wouldn’t likely yield much while risking political capital.

Google OTOH has created a lot of enemies in both parties. There’s political momentum to knock them down a peg by the progressive left and the far right, albeit for different reasons. When you start to see that kind of consensus forming, the likelihood of action taken against them increases.

> The government has a lot of power, and often for good reason, but that power can only be respected when it is wielded dispassionately, not to settle personal scores.

This statement fundamentally ignores the reality of politics, particularly in our current era. To suggest that government is capable of acting dispassionately is to ignore the long and deep personal conflicts that have existed throughout history. It ignores the reality that money and influence, both of which are deployed to deeply personal ends on both sides of the political spectrum. Political power can not be wielded dispassionately because political power can not be attained dispassionately.


> To suggest that government is capable of acting dispassionately

Government is a massive beast doing all kinds of things at the same time. For example only 12% of all US governmental employees work for the federal government, it’s 24% at the state level, and 63% at the local level. The overwhelming majority of what the government does is run schools, libraries, maintain infrastructure etc in a rather banal fashion.

What makes the news are the rare exceptions which people actually find interesting. The 600,000+ bridges making life a little easier are generally background noise, but when just 1 fails that’s potentially national news etc.


>And it explains why, for example, no one cares about Comcast or the fact that a handful of payment processors basically run their personal fiefdoms about who or what they will allow on their platform, while we are asked to be over-worried by vague claims of 'Russian tampering'.

There's already a lot of regulation addressing traditional telecommunication, as the result of past lawsuits or FCC action, so I don't think this statement holds much water.

Say for example the numerous regulation on advertisement in children's programming[1] which had huge impact on the business of cable tv. No such thing exists for Youtube Kids, say. Compared to the wild west that is digital advertising, traditional telecoms actually are subject to a huge amount of constraints already.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulations_on_children%27s_te...


If Google didn't break any antitrust laws, I don't see why it has anything to worry about.

I for one am happy to see the outcome of a fair and legal trial, whatever the impetus.


Let's say 5 companies in 5 different markets did break antitrust laws and the government focuses only on company 1's actions and doesn't even bother looking at what 2-5 do.

In that scenario, I'd say 6 parties are acting improperly: all 5 companies plus the government.


That is the unfortunate reality of how most of civilized society works. E.g. sensational crimes get more attention from law enforcement. Laws are applied according to societies whim. I think the natural conclusion of the “what about X” line of argument would lead to the paralysis of the legal system.


I don't see that as a particularly "civilized" part of our society. More like pitchforks and torches than good governance.


Except those five companies are dwarfed in size and market power by the one under spotlight.

The biggest chunk of US S&P 500 market cap is FAANG stocks.


Sentator Warren has made most of her career lashing out and taking action against out of control corporations. Google just happens to be the corporation most out of control (Alphabet really).

Politicians are supposed to represent their constituents. I only wish my senator was as passionately outspoken as Senator Warren.

It's ok for lawmakers to dislike a specific corporations and make specific laws against that corporation. Matter of fact, many on HN (self included) would be well represented by a politician introducing law to specifically disband Alphabet.

> The government has a lot of power, and often for good reason, but that power can only be respected when it is wielded dispassionately, not to settle personal scores.

Than how should the people settle scores against these companies? Do you recommend torches or pitchforks? I thought law makers representing the people and passing popular laws was a more democractic way?

I don't know if you work at google but no one (except a few extremists) had suggested anything more than a profit loss for your company.

To clarify further, I have severe disdain against google due to their arrogance pattern of very dangerous and harmful anti-consent activites that undermines the very concept of individual freedom.


"Settling Scores" is a very strange term to use. I don't think the law is for settling scores.


Yes it is. Justice is setting scores with legitimate authority. I wouldn't use the term but despite hyperboles used in the parent comment this sort of thing is very common. HN would be cheering Sen. Warren if it was Exxon and the subject was climate change. Large Corporations when committing crimes tend to commit special and unique crimes. Replace Google with Al-Qaeda and you will see why,except this is white collar tech crime not kinetic terrorism.


The law is for crimes or civil matters not petty grudges implied by score.

You might have a score to settle with a (former) friend for sleeping with your sibling as a breach in etiquette but that isn't a matter for the law. Score is too expansice a term. Apply it in politicians context and the abuses become horrifying as in "we testified before congress that the bill was an ill considered mess so now face retaliation". Allowing that strong arming is not justice.


Not just politicians, but media companies seem to be picking sides as well.


> so that at least some page sticks

The alternative is that nothing will ever stick against them.

If politicians never engaged in polically motivated anti trust enforcement, then no anti trust enforcement would ever happen.

And that sounds much worse.


> If politicians never engaged in polically motivated anti trust enforcement, then no anti trust enforcement would ever happen

There’s a largely apolitical organization that is supposed to bring antitrust cases under a structure set up by congress.

Sore, politicians can and do champion specific issues (in the case of antitrust, Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind) but by and large you’d prefer that the politicians remained high level (let’s have a structure to help keep the air clean) and the bureaucracy remained low level (let’s see what we can do about NOx emissions).

If all antitrust had to originate in congress there would hardly have been any, ever.


> There’s a largely apolitical organization that is supposed to bring antitrust cases under a structure set up by congress.

And yet here we are, living in a world where anti trust action is long past due.

That would be great if they were taking more action against blatant violations of anti trust law.

But that's not happening enough. And since it is not happening enough, we should support any possible wins that we get.

You should not be advocating against these anti trust enforcement acts. Instead, you should be arguing that more anti trust enforcement is done.

> you’d prefer that the politicians remained high level

How about, we all just support more anti trust enforcement, because clearly there isn't enough of it happening.


Google et al are no saints. However, I can’t help but feel like all this misdirection and grandstanding is the establishment’s territorial reaction against the rise of another powerful opponent.

Whoever wins we lose.


Who is "the establishment" in this case? And who is "we"? I suspect the answer to the first question consists of direct or indirect Google shareholders. Some opponent.

Most small business would benefit from more competition for ad-placement and consumer eye-balls. Their savings would be passed on in the form of lower prices or greater investment in new products. Hard to see that as a loss for anyone.


This isn't just an American move. The EU is preparing similar antitrust cases and the introduction of a digital tax.


You can trick a Eurocrat into regulating anything, though. The seeds of Euro proceedings against Google were planted years ago by a Microsoft astroturf campaign called FairSearch and the tree was watered since then by incumbent interests like putrescent newspaper conglomerates and software industry also-rans that nobody ever heard of.


nobody ever heard of.

If I were a European, I would benefit a lot more from a flourishing ecosystem of "also-rans" (yuck, so harsh) building their own local workforces and communities.

As an American, I miss the days when it was considered acceptable to run a business that makes yourself and your local area rich, instead of the only "cool" thing being an extractive VC-launched all-or-nothing gluttonous monopoly (joining in the harsh adjectives I guess). We would have many more opportunities for all levels with thousands of $50mil companies instead of a handful of $500bil companies.


I'm not willing to take it on faith that in the industries where Google has dominant market share there was formerly a better ecosystem. Many of these efforts are being driven by lobbyists for newspapers who are sad that they lost their local influence and extortionate local advertising monopolies.

It's also not obvious to me that in the realm of indexing and searching the web it would be better to have numerous worse choices instead of one big one. Say what you want anecdotally about Google search quality, but it is better than anything else on the market in objective terms. What will the searching public lose if you impair Google's ability to pay for search quality?

That's my main beef with the European line of thinking on antitrust, that it considers for some reason the well-being of certain failing companies and doesn't really seem to take into account what the public harms and benefits might be. Whereas in the American approach of the last 40 years, regulators need to show that customers are being harmed, without much regard for competitors.


How can you tell the difference between an earnest concern for public harms and an opinion from a lobbying campaign?


I don't know why, I just find it rather easy to identify astroturf campaigns run by spammers, SEO outfits, and Microsoft. Maybe it is just my age but the answer of the question "is Microsoft sincerely trying to save the Web?" is "LOL obviously not."

When I read what seem to me to be rational and legitimate criticism of Google, it tends to come from a disinterested source like a law school or philosophers of ethics, or economists. But these also tend to be even-handed, recognizing that it might be globally optimal to have a single search provider, while criticizing Google for things where it is vulnerable to criticism, such as the fact that it both operates the major ads marketplace and owns the largest participant in that market.


> thousands of $50mil companies instead of a handful of $500bil companies

Great point.

To me, it seems like those $500bil companies have perfected the art of wrangling those people who could be building the $50 million companies. I mean, why risk failure when, did someone say free lunch?


That and $1/2 million in comp (pre-tax, of course).


These smaller businesses are still the dominant model. VC in total is a vanishingly minuscule portion of the financial sector, and really only works because that is the case.

Bigger companies get more press as they employ more people and (more significantly) more people tend to be their customers. Wal Mart is in the press more than Lockheed because Lockheed has few customers. But the Mittlestand (as the Germans call it) is a big part of the US economy.


What do you mean by this?

Isn't Google and their army of lawyers/board members/consultants/lobbyists/etc already the establishment?


Sort of. It's AN establishment with a lot of power, but it's not well-connected to THE establishment.

There are a few types of ultrarich:

1) People whose power is in institutions. For example, wealthy European land-owning families, Saudi princes, etc. These vary in liquid wealth, but can swing trillions of dollars in power.

2) People who made money long enough for money to be liquid. Bill Gates is in the class. They have money, and can use all of it. Gates has a lot less power than people in the above class.

3) People whose money is all in one place. Jeff Bezos is like this. If he tried to sell all his Amazon stock at once, Amazon would tank. His paper worth is in the same ballpark as Gates, but he has a lot less power.

4) People whose money is locked down. E.g. pre-IPO founder of a unicorn. They can have astronomical paper net worth, but little real power in comparison to Bezos.


Establishment is always relative matter of age plus power and even a sickly irrelevant establishment is still an establishment. Landowning nobility were still an establishment even when industrialists were making more money for centuries and respectable families had to marry in overseas tycoons for money.

The United States is an upstart compared to European nations which existed for millennia. Google is still fundamentally young even though they have grown older.

Pedantically I would use "the" for the current eldest establishment with any power and "an" for any that are newer and even eclipsing.


This is what antitrust had always been about.


A lot of this is basically just the republican establishment pissing into the unknown. They don't understand the scale at which google operates - the people at the committee Google's CEO testified at seem to think liberals with dyed hair get to go through and manage every single search result one byone.

Trump would not have won without social media, for example. The republican party didn't even ratify any policy at their convention, just sweating allegiance to the man - that is the position they base their actions from.

This isn't an establishment thing as much as an explicitly partisan play by part of the establishment.


Given the other side of the aisle's behavior, the Republican party doesn't have to. They just have to point at looting, riots, unmanageable fires, monument and cultural destruction, things cancel culture, etc... and say "Say what you want about how we do things, but that isn't us."

And the sad thing is, it isn't right, it shouldn't work. It shouldn't be convincing. It shouldn't be reasonable. They should have to fight to articulate, react to, uphold, and reify the values of the public at large. They should have to claw and change, evolve, and do something. In this year though, it's laughable. I can't take any political party in the United States seriously given the repeated failures at generating reasonable candidates.

The fact we have the fundamental dysfunctional logic that we have to put up with the big two National conventions candidates because the anything else is a wash just demonstrates how broken the system has become, and why the Founders were wary of the social construct and institution in the first place!


[flagged]


>I wasn't aware that Nancy Pelosi was rioting.

See? That's what I mean!

Yes, maybe there was a bit of skulduggery in the setup, but you instantly went to "the institution is doing just fine and isn't causing any active harm", when the entire reason things are as heated as they are is because people are getting so riled up because they don't feel their grievances can be effectively redressed, and there's no realistic room forathird party to develop and actually unseat either of the big two as a whip to get them to pay more attention to the needs of the populace as opposed to perpetuating their own supremacy over the political stage.

Organizations don't evolve in the abscence of pressure, and there is none when the entire political cake can expand unbounded except along the two party interface.


The lootingv and riots are mostly far right nutjobs trying to create the appearance of chaos.

The fires are occurring in largely Republican areas of the west, on federal land mismanaged by a republican administration. And cancel culture is worse on the right side of the aisle than it is on the left, see e.g., what has happened to every former Trump ally.


> Trump would not have won without social media

That's the most hilarious thing about this whole thing. They talk as if there is someone out to get them in Facebook, even though it seems they were most helped by it.


Isn't that normal in a power struggle?

For example, if someone makes you king, you kill that person as soon as it's official. They have the ability to confer legitimacy, and that's too dangerous if your opponents would be able to use it.

The things you want when you have power aren't always the same things as when you're trying to gain power.


Yes but that doesn't mean it should be accepted without question - i.e. checks and balances rely on consensus


The establishment is also uniformly willfully ignorant in a Upton Sinclair sense and stubborn. They demand tbe world act like how they expected it to like editorial controls of publishers.

The willfull ignorance is akin to saying that it is impossible to distribute music more efficiently than audio CDs and despite ripping being trivial direct music downloads are somehow an unacceptable risk. We saw this with Tower Records and other dead middlemen killed by the now commodity 99 cent song default download.

You could see this in EU as well with publishers being frothing mad at Amazon undermining their price cartels. I am personally of the point of view that this sort of disruption is a good thing as out of vogue as it may grow.

In this case their norms of the old world they are fine with some author publishing a "special interest" book stating say the War on Drugs is racist it is just publishers putting outragous stuff to print for money as normal but when it shows up in the W section of encyclopedia listing racism as an influence on the War on Drugs they are outraged at the publisher acting "pushing against" them. Except Google isn't doing anything active against them let alone actual remotely an issue.

If anything has been far too lenient with their manual turn offs of trending to avoid awkward viral suggestions but that is my opinion and my biases are anti-norm by default.


Wow a lot of comments in the theme of 'but what about this OTHER company acting anticompetitively'.

Okay, so let's bring action against them too. The answer isn't to ignore all of them.


The gist of it is that those other corporations cowtowed to the administration and could then got away with scummy antitrust behaviour. There doesn't seem to be any cases on the horizon for any of the others.

That's the problem - some people would consider that corruption.


"The gist of it is that those other corporations cowtowed to the administration and could then got away with scummy antitrust behaviour"

I think the reality is simpler; antitrust enforcement in the states is laughable and historically has been more the exception than the rule. Even the golden age of robber baron breakups was a historical anomaly due to a freak accident.

Having worked on a ton of competition filings, I can tell you that this isn't an administration specific issue; competition law itself has been defanged by a history of refusal to enforce.


I think the other piece to look at is market cap.

Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Tencent, and Alibaba are huge. I'd focus enforcement efforts on those. They're also high-growth.

Of all of those, Amazon/Google/Facebook are the most antitrusty.

Of those, Google is causing the most immediate anticompetitive harm (not harm in general; Facebook leads there; anticompetitive harm).

It seems a natural target.


Ok interesting-- after this do

Experian, Equifax, etc

Coal mining and other swine industries that are politically connected and valuable. Of all the bad actors in the world, this seems like a funny prioritization but we live in dumb times

Another self-inflicted wound in our economy


Experian: 34.63 billion market cap

Google: 1.024 trillion market cap

Experian is also really evil, but it's not obvious to me how they're anticompetitive.


Anti-trust regulations are not meant to control "bad actors" but to reign in monopolies.


Everyone loves to saber rattle about FAANG and antitrust, while we all sit back and let Charter and Comcast make contracts to not compete with eachother[0], we rapidly head towards having one major national bank[1] and somehow the big 4 always seem to spontaneously engage in the same bad behaviors, and Ma Bell has much been re-assembled to it's original state[2].

We desperately need a new trust buster president.

[0]: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/05/comca...

[1]: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/the-banking-oligopoly-in-on...

[2]: https://www.theverge.com/2016/10/24/13389592/att-time-warner...


Ma Bell being reassembled is orders of magnitude less problematic than it would have been in the 1980s. Back when you only had 1 choice for local phone (no cell phones) and long distance calls were a quarter a minute (or more). I haven't made a normal phone call in years and have decent cell options. If I wanted a local phone I could use VOIP or get a real line (via centurylink).


How does that article imply we’re heading for one national bank? Is it that banks have consolidated into the big 4 and that eventually they would continue to merge? That’s already a big assumption. Then there’s the coming disruption of what classical banking looks like. Square, PayPal, and Robinhood are already making inroads. PayPals worth more than most of the big 4.


Why aren't "blue" states going after Google, that's the real question. It's as though they might prefer Google to be an insurmountable monopoly with total control of web search or something.

Google doesn't know it yet, BTW, but it will benefit from increased competition, just like Microsoft did. I was at MS when Google became a force to reckon with, and we used to joke that if Google did not exist, MS would just consist entirely of sales people, lawyers, and managers of all sorts. It was not uncommon at the time to have 1:1 program manager (aka people who mostly just sit in meetings and report "status" to each other) to dev ratio in teams. This is _excluding_ people managers. With competition in place you have to actually hire people who can do the work, and pay them well so that competition doesn't hire them away from you.

Google's org hierarchy when I left a few years ago was already 2 levels deeper than Microsoft's in late 00s, so I'd argue it's well on its way there. It's an inevitable consequence of not having to compete. You grow a massive amount of counterproductive barnacles.


That Elizabeth Warren tweet mentioned in the article stands out to me. She has spoken about breaking up big tech in her campaign as well.

While I completely agree with regulation ensuring fairer competition; as we are seeing how much abuse total control over a computing platform can lead to in Apple vs Epic case, is breaking them up the right way?

R&D is costly, and these companies spend a lot on it which is the reason US is still the leader in a lot of tech areas. The ability to spend that much just comes from their size. Breaking up companies might lead to inability of companies to go for moonshots and invest in cutting edge stuff. With China catching up and it being unlikely of them to restrict their companies this way, will it reduce competitiveness?


Most of the US tech sector doesn't spend all that much on R&D in comparison to its income and profits.

For example, Alphabet reportedly spent $18 billion USD on R&D in 2018[0] but acquired $77 billion in gross revenues and $31 billion in net profits over the same year[1].

In comparison, Volkswagen spent $14.5 billion USD on R&D in 2018[0] but acquired only $54 billion (as converted from Euros at December 2018 exchange rates) in gross revenues and $13 billion in net profits[2].

If VW can spend that much on R&D, particularly as a percentage of revenues, without being an abusive monopoly, then so can Alphabet.

[0] https://spendmenot.com/blog/top-rd-spenders/ [1] https://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/googl/financials [2] https://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/vow/financials


This is meant to be satire, right? The percentage of revenues of the two examples you gave are nearly identical.


23% vs 26%....

I hope it's satire!


Looking at R&D by inputs alone is a mistake anyway. You could spend billions on attemptint to revive phrenology but that doesn't mean you'll get anything of worth. There are certainly times when it needs more but spending more into it isn't an intrinsic merit. Plus even if you have a fruitful program it doesn't mean it can always be scaled up meaningfully just because there is more money available.

The output of R&D is what justifies it - although great potential may take a lot of time to vindicate. A low ratio would result from a successful matured program which simply cannot expand fast enough to reinvest. Under that metric a program with the top people paid industry leading salaries and pumping out generations of advances would be worse than a lab full of scammers which never produced any applications. That isn't a very useful metric.


> Most of the US tech sector doesn't spend all that much on R&D

25% of revenue on R&D seems like a pretty reasonable amount?


It might not be a bad thing if R&D becomes more decentralized back into startups instead of FAANGs. The money is there, but the current market structure doesn't encourage it.


While America wants to break up their big tech, China is directly subsidizing their companies and shielding them from outside competition until they’re ready to launch on a global scale.


I think the two markets will stay disconnected somewhat. Maybe at the interface level -> e.g. Amazon/Walmart/Target


creating new regulations on tech firms that make it more difficult for them to stop new competitors from arising or from protecting their monopolies makes so much more sense than just artificially deciding to slice up our top performers in industry and hamstring the sector.


That's assuming the monolith is actually doing good for society. I for one am desperate for more options for email providers with actual spam filtration, phones without anti-consumer spyware and eco system lockdowns, and social media that doesn't force users to speak only of things the DNC would approve of.


You're glossing over all the good things they've done to lay the groundwork for what you want. I'd like a smartphone with better privacy too, but I wouldn't want a smartphone at all if not for tech industry innovation over the past decade. I would (and did) choose a compact flip phone in a world where Blackberry was state of the art.


Haven't we learned from the death of Socrates that "good/bad for society" is a terrible and meaningless metric as it is so values dependent?

All of those things already exist by the way - Google ironically can help you find it but so can most other search engines. There are plenty of paid providers in addition to roll your own and many anti-spam solutions. Fairphone/Freephone or even just some unlocked down Androids will run whatever you want and can, federated social media like Mastodon has all sorts of stuff that wouldn't be approved of by the mainstream like niche pornography.


> R&D is costly, and these companies spend a lot on it

To what end? And how efficiently? If there is one lesson from the last millennium, it's that innovation has poor economies of scale and is stifled by centralisation.

Capital markets have not been more liquid in our lifetimes. In 2018 alone, venture capital "invested $251 billion," [1] representing the median lifetime earnings of almost 100,000 college graduates [2][3]. "25 percent of all VC deal volume" was in $1 billion+ deals, the median lifetime earnings of over 160,000 high school graduates [4].

Google is no SpaceX or Tesla or Moderna Therapeutics. It has its vanity projects. But those are run in start-up analogs. Google brings no advantage beyond its checkbook, and has a track record of its projects outperforming as spin-outs its internal operations.

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/private-equity-and-princ... Venture capital’s very good year

[2] https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/colleg... Figure 1, page 3

[3] $251 billion raised in 2018 / ($2,268,000 Median Bachelor's Degree Lifetime Earnings in 2009 dollars x 1.17 Inflation Adjustment to 2018 dollars per [a]) = 94,590

[a] https://www.usinflationcalculator.com

[4] $251 billion raised in 2018 / ($1,304,000 Median High School Diploma Lifetime Earnings in 2009 dollars x 1.17 Inflation Adjustment to 2018 dollars per [a]) = 164,517


> "If there is one lesson from the last millennium, it's that innovation has poor economies of scale and is stifled by centralisation."

When did we learn that? Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, and Intel's decades of dominance in semiconductor process research are prime counterexamples but I'm sure there are plenty of others.


> Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, and Intel's decades of dominance

Compare the size of these companies, in their time, to the Soviet-scale bureaucracies of Facebook, Apple, Amazon or Google.

Innovation doesn't have no economies of scale. But they peter out around the levels of CERN or NASA. (At private enterprises, that threshold appears smaller.)

Also note the difference between invention and innovation, the latter implying successful distribution. Xero PARC developing great things and then abandoning them isn't productive apart from fluke exfiltrations like by way of a tour.


> "Compare the size of these companies, in their time, to the Soviet-scale bureaucracies of Facebook, Apple, Amazon or Google."

Not sure what you're trying to say here. I'll wager that Bell Systems at its peak was probably was larger than even Amazon in terms of total employees, given that they ran the nationwide telephone network. Xerox was no slouch in size in its heyday either, given the ubiquity of photocopiers at every single office everywhere.

[EDIT] From Wikipedia: "At the time of its breakup in the early 1980s, the Bell System had assets of $150 billion (equivalent to $370 billion in 2019) and employed over one million people." So at least as many employees as Amazon currently has and enough market cap for consideration as a FAANG.


> Compare the size of these companies, in their time, to the Soviet-scale bureaucracies of Facebook, Apple, Amazon or Google.

At the risk of being flippant: lol. “Soviet-scale bureaucracies” and “size of these companies”.

The Bell System employed over 1 million people in the early 1980s. Apple is around 140,000 now. Amazon is close to a million, but compared to population growth, c’mon.

And I dare you to read about the history of the Bell System and somehow come to the conclusion it was a lean, mean streamlined machine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_System


It somewhat astonishes me how many people will make really strong policy claims without having the historical chops to back it up.

The idea of a lean, mean, non-bureaucratic Bell system against the Soviet-scale bureaucracy of Google and Facebook is just laughable.


The breakup of the bell system is what allowed dial-up services and the ISPs that followed them to flourish.


Apple “employs” 140K people only if you don’t count the thousands of people that basically “work for” Apple making hardware in China.

Historically, manufacturers didn’t outsource their entire manufacturing facilities.


You can't compare headcount across time periods without taking into account productivity growth. This is an apples-and-oranges comparison.


> Facebook, Apple, Amazon or Google.

You're just making things up at this point. Bell was easily larger than all of those with the possible exception of Amazon.


I agree with all this, just want to add that there have been cultural and structural changes in US society as well that make comparisons to 1960s NASA or Bell Labs ahistorical.


I think there are plently of examples where a lot of innovation came out of already established companies as the other commenter has already mentioned.

But even leaving that aside, isn't that checkbook the most important part? While VCs are flushed with money and they do invest in companies like Magic Leap, a lot of these projects do require sustained funding through long term which VCs might not have the stomach for. Since you picked Google, take the example of Waymo. It has taken a lot of money and resources poured over a long time to get it where it is today. Also, unlike Tesla they didn't just make a half baked product, market it as self driving and push it to consumers because they needed to keem themselves afloat.

SpaceX is competitive today because thankfully it had the blessing of the government and NASA through both tech and money. I wonder if this will be true for all other non strategic projects.


> take the example of Waymo

Google spent $1.1bn on Waymo [1]. That does not require a trillion-dollar backer and rivals the funding regularly raised in single rounds.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waymo#History


Well, you are mentioning that in hindsight in 2020. When it started in 2009 and technologies like deep learning were mostly limited to companies like Google and universities, would most investors have went with those high values knowing they won't even have a product 11 years later? 2009 was just 5 years after DARPA challenge and Level 5 self driving was still a moonshot.

Also, the wiki article mentions that funding amount to be between 2009-15. I don't know how Google accounts for cost, but would they count the value of shared technology?


> To what end? And how efficiently? If there is one lesson from the last millennium, it's that innovation has poor economies of scale and is stifled by centralisation.

I would not say that has been the lesson at all. For pricing, sure, but "innovation" writ large as a concept? I'm skeptical.

I don't see how spending numbers alone proves anything about the level of innovation.

Plus, if innovation is "stifled by centralisation," why do you go on to speak so positively of VC/private equity, among the most consolidated and least liquid of all capital markets. Further, hasn't the volume of VC funding actually gone down in recent years, indicating increased central allocation of funds?


Why should consumers subsidize R&D by a company with no accountability to them what so ever?

US is the leader in many tech areas due to free market competition as well as defense spending, not Google's R&D. Google is also happy to sell their R&D to China, but then somehow finds it uncomfortable to transact with the DoD.

Hard to make case Google is a net positive for the US with a straight face.


They shouldn't, the accountability should come with regulation ensuring fair competition and respect for user data, not just going ahead and reducing competitiveness of US companies by breaking them up.

I will be really surprised if Google sold their R&D to China, as it makes no sense whatsoever, but my comment was in general about all US big tech companies.


> the accountability should come with regulation ensuring fair competition and respect for user data

Yes, so what we're saying is there's clear evidence that they have failed at adhering to those regulation, so should be broken up.

> not just going ahead and reducing competitiveness of US companies by breaking them up.

Siri, define competition.


> there's clear evidence that they have failed at adhering to those regulation, so should be broken up.

If there is clear evidence of them breaking existing regulation, then I am all for taking action. If the existing regulations are insufficient, I am all for introducing new ones as in the case of App Store debate.

> Siri, define competition.

I meant competitiveness in terms of R&D by cutting their cash flows.


> If there is clear evidence of them breaking existing regulation, then I am all for taking action.

Cool, so that is why they are taking Alphabet to court, because of alleged anti-trust violations. If the court determines there is clear evidence of them breaking existing regulation, then Alphabet might be broken up.

Glad we agree that we ought to enforce our anti-trust laws.


Except in the case of a both legislation and enforcement, they spend tens of millions of dollars seeking to avoid it. Often successfully. The former is via lobbying and the latter is the good old "revolving door policy." Ex. Nick Clegg [FB], Jay Carney [Amazon]


> They shouldn't, the accountability should come with regulation ensuring fair competition and respect for user data, not just going ahead and reducing competitiveness of US companies by breaking them up.

Nothing about Google even approaches fair competition. It's impossible due to network effects. "Respect for user data" sounds great in theory, but ends up being a cudgel to reduce the ability of a startup to compete while shouldering high compliance costs.

> I will be really surprised if Google sold their R&D to China, as it makes no sense whatsoever, but my comment was in general about all US big tech companies.

They don't get a say in the matter, because they have an R&D facility within China's jurisdiction. China's national security laws compel full cooperation in security and intelligence matters, I'll add that what counts as "security" and "intelligence" has a very expansive legal definition as compared to for example in the US. This law has no process of appeal nor any sort of judicial review.


The US is the economic leader in tech because network effects in tech strongly favors monopolies, and the US does not do antitrust enforcement anymore.

The US tech sector makes money hand over fist not because of its technology but because the various tech firms have been allowed to monopolize their respective market areas.

See e.g.:

https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674237544

https://johnquiggin.com/2020/08/03/intangibles-monopoly/


You are absolutely correct in that antitrust enforcement in the US is broken. I think it's also clear that most big tech is monopolistic in nature.

However that's not the cause of its leadership, if anything it's an obstacle. Most money earned by big tech is spent on share buybacks, and not R&D. Meanwhile many potential market entrants fail, and their often superior tech never sees the light of day. It's true that monopolies can do loss making R&D for a while, but the benefits tend to be front loaded. Eventually a form of organizational sclerosis sets in, and the supposedly beneficial R&D output disappears. See The Gervais Principle for a deeper look at this.

It would be a tremendous boost to US competitiveness if these monopolies went away. However it would make a certain cross-section of society actually work for a living, so of course they will do all they can to prevent such a conversation from happening in the public sphere.

Edit: The book you linked to discusses regulatory capture, a very subtle way that companies exercise monopolistic power, often under the guise of "safety", etc. I referenced that tactic elsewhere in the thread re privacy and user data laws.

The correct solution to this, counter-intuitively, is to reduce regulation. And make operating a larger company more expensive, while doing the opposite for small businesses.


I'm not convinced that reducing regulations is the way to get rid of monopolies. The first major experience with monopolies in America was before the great depression, when regulations on most businesses were virtually non-existent. Economic history is fairly clear that unregulated markets consolidate into monopolies without regulations to ensure ongoing competition.

While there are certain cases where regulatory capture has created regulations that enforce monopolies, this isn't the case for the entire tech sector in general.

Regulatory monopolies protect telephone, cable, and Internet providers. In some areas it is simply illegal to construct competing communications infrastructure. Under Trump, the national security process is also now being used to protect market incumbents; the TikTok confiscation--that Zuk----rg lobbied for--coming just as Facebook is planning to roll out a TikTok competitor likely isn't a coincidence. Removing these regulations would help competition in these areas, and should be done.

However, outside of these cases, the tech sector in general exists to make a legal revenue stream from loopholes and lack of enforcement in the regulatory regime. Platforms like Uber are only viable businesses because they've been allowed to circumvent both minimum wage laws and regulations surrounding the taxi industry. AirBnB is, fundamentally, an unlicensed franchise hotel operator, and is only viable as long as regulators refuse to require it to abide by the same rules as the rest of the hotel industry. Much of the contemporary video gaming sector is based on evading regulations on gambling. Finally, adtech firms, like Facebook and Google, are only viable because the US has no consumer privacy laws. Taking away what little enforced regulations cover these firms would not benefit consumers or market competition.

Quite frankly, so much of the tech sector was built on the monetization of socially destructive behavior, legal-but-predatory business practices, "regulatory arbitrage", and outright illegality, that large parts of it should be outlawed entirely.


If they are subsidizing it through consumer choices they do have accountability. A good test of this is a thought experiment of "leadership replaced by an edgelord troll with impunity". If they could sink the company by say replacing the homepage with shock site images randomly they have at least some accountability.


> If they are subsidizing it through consumer choices they do have accountability.

This cannot happen if the company is a monopoly, by definition.

> A good test of this is a thought experiment of "leadership replaced by an edgelord troll with impunity".

Given Google's systemic importance in the media ecosystem the result would be apocalyptic. Maybe not for Google, but certainly for everyone else.


The point is essentially one of dependency and voluntaryness. An actual government collecting taxes or essential to life with no viable alternatives isn't an actual choice anymore than "your money or your life is". Even if the optimal outcome rests on choosing them that is still a choice.

The point of the edgelord thought experiment is if they can exploit it without choking the goose who lays the golden eggs and losing it anyway. Competition is one means of it just like regulated monopolies for utilities. If people stop using Google in the apocalypse how can it not be apocalyptic for them?

We have seen plenty of "invulnerable incumbents" fall once they are so stupid they lose the net advantage of scale and a good name.


> The point is essentially one of dependency and voluntaryness.

False dichotomy. Gradations exist. Particularly in the ad business that is, in effect, a two-way market for intentional attention online.

> An actual government collecting taxes or essential to life with no viable alternatives isn't an actual choice anymore than "your money or your life is". Even if the optimal outcome rests on choosing them that is still a choice.

This is over-simplified. Consumers have no way to choose whether businesses buy Google ads, that choice is necessitated by market dynamics. So the only agency a consumer has is to stop using Google. Good luck with that. I suppose moving completely off-grid is possible, but a market that forces these types of choices is neither legitimate nor defensible, therefore it will eventually get dismantled one way or another.

> If people stop using Google in the apocalypse how can it not be apocalyptic for them?

You seem to be conflating the situation of a non-monopolist with a monopolist here. By definition a monopolist's services will continue to be used.

> We have seen plenty of "invulnerable incumbents" fall once they are so stupid they lose the net advantage of scale and a good name.

I strongly agree that this is the best outcome. I'd like it to happen sooner, and if antitrust intervention allows that, so much the better! Antitrust is inherently always pro-business, in the larger sense of the word.


Apparently for Americans helping China surveil their population is insufficiently patriotic, they must help their own DoD and NSA as well


It's hard to read this as anything but some form of what-aboutism.

However, I'll bite, whatever you think of NSA and DoD, because of FISA, congressional oversight, and generally centuries of respect for rule of law, you can't compare them to PRCs surveillance apparatus.


It is a shitty comparison game to get into in the first place with insane agendas. Akin yo complaining "Why does the gun shop owner sell to the one guy who shot his wife but not my abusive husband? That is totally unfair!".


The fact is, Google is a US company and they benefit from the security provided by those agencies. Your analogy, colorful as it may be, belies reality.


Security theater really - what does their snooping give other than the ability to say "We technically knew about it! It was right here in the pile!" afterwards? Its true purposes are self serving and to be a rhetorical justification escape hatch of National Security to ensure impunity.

Bad actions are bad regardless of the flag they drape themselves in or any fallacious affinity that assumes what is liked by an actor on behalf of us is good for us. Should we be grateful that a "lobbyist" "donated" a big pile of cocaine to our senators?


> Security theater really

Use of this phrase in this context indicates either a naive or incomplete understanding of the constitutional order, i.e. how government works in practice as opposed to as an idealism, which is the foundation for understanding constitutional governance and it's practices. Reading Hobbes as well as Montesquieu, particularly the Spirit of Laws should dispel the notion of security theater in a pejorative sense. Also, unless you have some special insight, you cannot for sure say what has been prevented. Therefore any speculation on "true purposes" is just that, speculation.

> Bad actions are bad regardless of the flag they drape themselves in or any fallacious affinity that assumes what is liked by an actor on behalf of us is good for us.

I'm in full agreement there. I'm grateful to live in a society where the government can be held to account, both legally and via elections. Not everyone is so lucky.


FISA is toothless against top-level (as opposed to rogue subordinate) violations because it relies on criminal enforcement, which the executive branch controls directly.


FISA provides reports to Congress at least annually.[1]

[1]https://it.ojp.gov/PrivacyLiberty/authorities/statutes/1286


Yes, the DOJ provides annual reports on surveillance applications made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under FISA to Congress.

This quite obviously does.nothing whatsoever to make the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s criminal prohibition on surveillance outside of the prescribed process enforceable against top-level executive decision makers, since there won't be any reportable applications to the FISC for such prohibited surveillance to report on, even if the DoJ was inclined to expose executive wrongdoing to Congress, and even if the DoJ was informed of the unlawful surveillance rather than it being done, e.g., entirely within NSA at the President’s direction with DoJ uninformed.


This is a reply to you down-thread, all those things I listed should be seen as a totality, not necessarily as separate pegs. And I think of "rule of law" [IANAL] as encompassing both formal and informal enforcement mechanisms. First Amendment protections and a vibrant press ecosystem is a part of the latter, particularly for exceptional scenarios you've alluded to.


There is also a role in this for the IG. And, ex post facto, for WaPo, NYTimes, or some other press to report on this.

The system is clearly imperfect, but and this is a big but, the presence of these safeguards is what makes the comparison made above a dishonest one.


> There is also a role in this for the IG.

I think the present administration has demonstrated the problem with viewing that as a meaningful check on unlawful policy supported from the top of the executive branch.

> And, ex post facto, for WaPo, NYTimes, or some other press to report on this

Yeah, if you want to differentiate the US from China on this, the First Amendment is a much better legal peg to hang your argument on than FISA.


The only "moonshot" I've seen from google is their quantum computing efforts. They held an internal competition, and axed one of the programs because it didn't look immediately viable. When management got bored, they rushed a "supremacy" result out the door (imo supremacy only counts when you're solving an existing problem, not when you're creating a problem that others can't solve, whose solution has no value). Their funding will be a question next year, too

If Google's QC efforts fail, we've still got IBM, Rigetti, DWave, now Honeywell, and a smorgasbord of smaller efforts, clamoring for success. So if QC meets the fate of most other Google efforts, or gets lost in a breakup, will we lose much as a society?

What other "moonshot" research do we see from FAANG? I can't really think of any, besides the insidious efforts to spy deeper into our homes and personal lives.





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